(1) Georgia
26
Final
22
Missouri
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) will run at least 5 times in the Capital One Orange Bowl, per the fearless predictions pregam column. (Photo by Steven Colquitt
Steve Colquitt

7 fearless predictions: Georgia vs. Michigan in Orange Bowl CFP Semifinal

MIAMI GARDENS Fla. — Two things about Georgia and Michigan football programs: Both talk tough, and both can back it up.

Physicality, no doubt, is the basis for any of the keys in the Orange Bowl College Football Playoff Semifinal, at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Hard Rock Stadium.

Head coaches Kirby Smart and Jim Harbaugh championed their programs’ physical brand of football in the days leading up to the game, a source of pride for both men as they were standout players known for their toughness during their playing careers.

RELATED: Todd Monken says Stetson Bennett makes national championship plays

The Michigan offensive line was named the Joe Moore Award winners, which goes annually to the best line in the nation.

The Georgia front seven, meanwhile, boasts three projected first-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft and a handful of others expected to be among the more than 10 Georgia players projected to be selected in the upcoming draft.

Bulldogs outgoing defensive coordinator Dan Lanning, who has also been wearing the Oregon head coaching cap, said UGA welcomes the physical style the Wolverines will bring.

“They run smash-mouth football plays,” said Lanning, who has been splitting his time between preparing Georgia for the Wolverines run-first attack and making hires as the new Oregon head coach.

“They demand some physicality up front, which I know we’re excited to see.”

Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, the Broyles Award winner,

“It’s going to be a train wreck inside,” Gattis said. “I mean, it’s two smash-mouth teams kind of going against each other and endurance is going to play a big piece in that.

“Who’s able to win the fourth quarter, who’s able to win the line of scrimmage late in the game is going to be the key to who wins the game.”

Conventional wisdom suggest the team that takes the early lead will be at a great advantage.

Neither Georgia QB Stetson Bennett nor Michigan QB Cade McNamara are considered prolific passers, more valued for their efficiency than dynamics.

And yet, Lanning cautions, the Bulldogs must be on guard for the Wolverines ability to provide explosive plays through misdirection or trickery.

“They have the ability to attack you downfield. I just think they show tremendous balance in the way they prepare, in the way they play the game, and it’s going to be a physical football game, which I know we certainly appreciate.

Here are four predictions for tonight’s game between Georgia and Michigan:

1. Stetson Bennett will tuck and run

Bennett made in clear earlier this season he feels the hits when he runs and would just as soon throw, but if Michigan is as effective at disguising its coverages, Bennett is more likely to take off and use the mobility that head coach Kirby Smart cites each time he’s asked about playing the former walk-on and junior college quarterback.

Bennett was sacked three times in the last game against Alabama, and on his 17 third down runs this season in SEC play, he has converted only six of them for first downs. That’s not adequate, especially coming off a game that saw UGA covert just 3-of-12 on third down against a relatively ordinary Alabama defense.

Over/under: 5 carries, 30 yards.

2. South Florida backs shine

Seniority has been a factor in the RB rotation the past four seasons, so that gives James Cook and Zamir White an edge, but Kenny McIntosh finished the season with the longest runs in each of the last two games.

Cook and McIntosh are the most versatile of the backs with their strong receiving skills, and that’s an area where Georgia can exploit Michigan.

White will likely remain the short-yardage and goal-line favorite, but it’s worth noting Kendall Milton is healthy once more and could provide a spark if given an opportunity in the crowded backfield.

Over/under: Cook/McIntosh combine for 10 catches, 100 yards

3. Turnovers tell the tale

Perhaps the most telling statistic coming into this Orange Bowl CFP Semifinal matchup is how Georgia has lost four games over the past four seasons when favored by a touchdown or more in 53 contests.

Turnovers.

The four losses Georgia has when favored by 6 points or more since 2017:

2o18 LSU (-4 turnover margine)

2018 Texas (-2 turnover margine

2019 South Carolina (-4 turnover margin)

2021 Alabama (-2 turnover margin)

Over/under: For Michigan to win, the Wolverines will need to be plus-2 in turnovers over Georgia.

4. Georgia Run D shows up

Michigan ranks No. 10 in the nation in rushing with 223.8 yards per game, while Georgia is third in the country stopping the run.

The Bulldogs will force the Wolverines to throw the football and take their chances with quarterback Cade McNamara.

Over/under: 125 yards rushing for Michigan.

5. Fast start figures in

Neither Georgia nor Michigan are equipped to rally from large deficits, as both rank outside the Top 100 in pass/run ratio this season.

The Bulldogs have internal bleeding on the heels of their 41-24 loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship game, when there were receivers understandably lobbying for JT Daniels to be inserted once the team fell three scores behind the Tide in the second half.

A fast start would give Bennett the confidence boost he needs after his two-interception performance and keep the sideline calm.

Michigan has scored first in 12 of its 13 games this season, and that’s where Harbaugh is most comfortable calling plays, as he looks to pound the football and run clock in much the same fashion Smart finds comfort.

Over/Under: The team leading at the 7-minute mark of second quarter wins game

6. Trick plays from both

Both coaching staffs fancy themselves among the smartest people in the room, and you’ll see Georgia and Michigan turn to trickery early in an effort to unsettle the opposing defense.

Over/Under: Somebody’s band is going to play, as trickery can and does often go bad. One touchdown and one turnover will come off trick plays in this football game.

7. Georgia advances

The Bulldogs will find themselves against Michigan, but it might not be pretty. Coach Kirby Smart has more talent than the Wolverines and that means more options and more answers.

Over/Under: Make it 28-20, Georgia

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